Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems: the Nexus between Water, Energy and Food

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Water-energy-food nexus

Target Audience

The course is directed toward upper-division undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of disciplines (environmental sciences, engineering, agricultural sciences, social sciences) as well as professionals (NGOs, think tanks) and policy makers concerned with sustainable development in both developed and developing countries.


In this course you will become familiar with the ideas of the water-energy-food nexus and transdisciplinary thinking.

You will learn to see your community or country as a complex social-ecological system and to describe its water, energy and food metabolism in the form of a pattern, as well as to map the categories of social actors.

We will provide you with the tools to measure the nexus elements and to analyze them in a coherent way across scales and dimensions of analysis. In this way, your quantitative analysis will become useful for informed decision-making. You will be able to detect and quantify dependence on non-renewable resources and externalization of environmental problems to other societies and ecosystems (a popular ‘solution’ in the western world). Practical case studies, from both developed and developing countries, will help you evaluate the state-of-play of a given community or country and to evaluate possible solutions. Last but not least, you will learn to see pressing social-ecological issues, such as energy poverty, water scarcity and inequity, from a radically different perspective, and to question everything you’ve been told so far.


– Introducing the basic concepts
– Acknowledging the poor quality of existing quantitative analyses
– The challenge of food accounting
– The challenge of energy accounting
– The challenge of water accounting
– The metabolic pattern of social-ecological systems across multiple scales and dimensions
– Applications of MuSIASEM 2.0
– Time for “something completely different”: from the Cartesian dream to quantitative story-telling via evidence-based policy

Learning Objectives